Contract Digital Printing vs Contract Screen Printing

If you are considering your options for printing garments or accessories, then no doubt you have heard of contract digital printing and contract screen printing. While similar results can be achieved with both printing methods, a good understanding of how they work, as well as their pros and cons, are key to creating the final product you have in mind.

Contract Printing

There is a major difference between regular digital or screen printing and contract digital or contract screen printing. In contract printing, the printer is contractually obligated not ever to have contact or to sell directly to the clients of their vendors. That means that a contract printer can never legally attempt to contact your clients or try to sell directly to them.

Digital Printing

Digital printing is also known as Direct to Garment (or DTG, for short). The best analogy for describing digital printing is an inkjet printer: The garment goes through the digital printer and the design is “printed” on the surface of the garment. The ink is applied directly to the garment, much like ink to a page in an inkjet printer. A computer controls the printing process, and your image must be transmitted in a digital format.

There are no setup costs for digital printing. It is ideal for short production runs but can get expensive with large production runs. The expense for large production runs lies in the fact that digital printing is not automated like screen printing and requires that someone be present at the machine for each garment that is printed.
With digital printing, the ink layer on the garment will be thinner and the resulting colors may not be quite as vibrant as you would see with screen printing. The definition of the final image on the garment may not be as sharp on darker background fabrics, either. Sometimes the blue and violet colors used with digital printing do not translate very well in the final print. Finally, digital printing does not (as of yet) support metallics, glow-in-the-dark, or UV sensitive inks.

The result is not of the same level of quality you would find with screen printing; however, much more detail can be captured in a digitally printed garment, and it works far better than screen printing when transferring a photographic print onto fabric. Digital printing also supports all-over prints far better than screen printing, and, because such a thin layer of ink is used, the garment remains soft after printing.
One of the key characteristics of digital printing is speed: there is no delay involved with creating screens and setting up the automated system as is required of screen printing. If you need a small quantity of shirts right away, then digital printing is the number one option.

Screen Printing

In traditional screen printing, the design is applied to the garment using a screen (think stencil) based on your artwork. Ink is applied to the garment through the screen, and each color used in the design requires its own screen. Every color used is then applied one at time through its respective screen.

Because multiple screens are needed, the setup costs for screen printing can be a bit on the expensive side. However, that cost ends up being distributed over the garments you have printed. So, the more garments you have printed, the lower the cost per garment. The screen printing process is automated, which reduces labor costs once the initial setup is completed. Note that most contract printing companies will have a minimum order for screen printing because of the setup costs involved.

With screen printing, you can expect a thicker layer of ink and more vibrant colors. Overall, the quality that results from screen printing is very good compared to that of digital printing. And screen printing supports novelty inks, such as metallics, UV-sensitive, and glow-in-the-dark, and is also capable of successfully achieving a far wider range of colors than digital printing.
However, screen printing may not be able to capture quite as much detail as digital printing. Another drawback of screen printing is that it creates a rubbery feel where the image is printed as a result of the thicker layers of ink used.

Which is Best?

Whether contract screen printing or contract digital printing is best depends on the results you need from the finished product. Contract digital printing is good for short production runs (including “one-of” products), while screen printing works best when you need a high-quality, large production run. Contract screen printing is also the preferred method for darker garments because the vibrant colors will stand out better, while digital printing works extremely well for designs with significant detail, photographic prints, or all over prints. If special inks (e.g., glow in the dark) are needed, screen printing is the preferred option. If color vibrancy and variety is the most important factor, then screen printing also is the way to go.

A.I.R. Conway – Your Choice for Contract Printing

If you are planning to contract print, then A.I.R. Conway is your best choice. Not only can our facilities handle both digital printing and screen printing, but we can advise you on which choice is your best bet for the needs of your project. Our highly skilled technicians will get your job processed with the highest quality, at lightning speed, and with free shipping. And we provide the same level of customer service and dedication to quality whether you require a short production run of a few digital printed shirts or a massive bulk order of screen-printed ball caps. Contact us today for a quote!